Why Boris Johnson is soft on Iran’s release of Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe – Laura Waddell

Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe attend a press conference following her release from Iranian custody (Photo: Victoria Jones/Getty Images)

With surprising and admirable composure, showing nerves of steel, she used her first press conference to ask that others unjustly detained in Iran not be forgotten.

This appearance on British soil, her family at her side, came after six long, agonizing years of campaigning for her release, during most of which, failure after failure, the prospect of success seemed painfully distant.

It turned out that Zagari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe, who was at the center of the campaign, was silenced from time to time. Labor MP Tulip Siddiqi said: “The Foreign Office told us many times, ‘We could have removed Nazanin sooner if you hadn’t sung and danced about it like that,’ but Richard disagreed.”

In stunts such as the disturbing extended hunger strikes that made horrific press photos, the agony of what the family had gone through was written all over his face.

The harrowing story of a husband begging to be reunited with his wife resonated with the public. As I wrote earlier, although the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case attracted many supporters, around the same time, there was a more intense degree of frenzied public interest in depriving Shamima Begum of his citizenship than in protecting the rights of a British citizen unjustly detained abroad.

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Continued media pressure to save Zaghary-Ratcliffe has been bad for Boris Johnson, whose mismanagement as Foreign Secretary in 2017, when he had to issue a formal apology in the House of Commons for erroneously claiming that she was “training journalists” for her travel to Iran, which is contrary to her legal protection.

It was a mistake with serious consequences. Speaking now, he will not want to draw attention to a colossal mistake; this is one of the reasons why his remarks about liberation come with a rare note of resignation.

Another issue concerns Britain’s debt to Iran, another point that Richard Ratcliffe has long pointed to as a link to his wife’s fate. Although the government claims it is not related to her release, the UK has just paid Iran £400m. The fact that Britain is in debt at all seems squeamish to many.

Moreover, gas and oil negotiations don’t really fit in with Brexit’s feverish dreams of a Britain that doesn’t have to rely on anyone; or the UK, which its most zealous, EU-rejecting citizens see as the dominant world power, made stronger precisely by breaking ties with others, as evidenced by the tabloids sending rude messages to a stunned France on the cliffs of Dover.

The ardent Brexiteers don’t want to see Britain as it is in the world today: a haughty little island dependent on deals like any other to function. Negotiations and needs are not in the spirit of Brexit Britain.

When Johnson comments on the release of Zaghary-Ratcliffe, instead of trumpeting the success of his government’s negotiations, he speaks in a low voice, still not about to sing and dance about it. Her clear voice and the family’s determination not to give up is what ultimately saved them.

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